Friday, September 08, 2006

What do I believe?

I recently registered as a bright. A bright, says the organization's website, is "a person who has a naturalistic worldview." I don't normally think of myself as having a "naturalistic worldview," but I applaud this core ideal: Let's define ourselves by what we believe, rather than what we do not believe.

It's easy to talk about what I don't believe. Like most brights, I don't believe in ghosts. I don't believe in souls. I don't believe we have a purpose, other than what we ourselves decide to pursue in life and in death. I don't believe good and evil are absolutes. I don't believe in God.

But what do I actually believe? I can say with confidence that I believe there is no God, but if I let that belief define me, then I'm defining myself with a negative, or defining myself by what other people believe. The idea behind "the brights" is to try to form a community of atheists and agnostics who can speak positively about their worldviews, without speaking negatively about others' beliefs, and without defining themselves only by what they don't believe.

Curious about what the general public was saying about the brights movement, I did some poking around and immediately ran into harsh criticism. The biggest problem is the name, "bright." Nobody really believes that this name wasn't chosen as a less-than-subtle implication about the cognitive abilities of those who do believe in Gods and other invisible forces.

Only... right there, we again insist that somehow because I am an atheist, I must define myself in relation to theists. That in defining myself as bright, I must be comparing myself with those who are not so bright. Well, why? Why can't I just say what I am, however I see myself, and have it have nothing to do with you and your church and your prayers and your God?

In criticizing the brights movement, this creep here says, "If you sense a linguistic sleight-of-hand going on here, you're brighter than Brights give you credit for. Despite their clever rhetoric, a belief system that rejects the supernatural is one that inescapably rejects the existence of God. So regardless of what affiliation a Bright claims, by definition, he is an atheist."

No. By your definition, I am an atheist. Because you can't say anything without God in it. If I follow my own beliefs, however, I deserve the right to talk about myself without talking about God. God does not exist in my world, so why should I have to define myself in reference to God?

I'm not sure how I feel about the brights. It almost sounds like a cult, like... a religion, and I'm frankly used to being on my own with my beliefs. I also don't feel a warm and fuzzy about this thing having a lot of success, at least not in the United States. But I have to say, I think they're onto something, and I'm going to ride along and see if being a bright affords me the opportunity to see my own self more clearly.

I'd like to be able to refer to my beliefs without the negativity our language has previously required I employ. I'd like to be able to talk about what I do believe, instead of what I don't believe.

3 comments:

jason evans said...

That's an interesting point about being defined in the negative. By doing so, there is an implicit judgment or hierarchy.

Bill Cameron said...

Ultimately this is a challenge to authoritarianism, which all too often is expressed via religious dogmatism. In the coming years, the real ideological battles will be between authoritarianism and liberalism (by which I mean true liberalism, as opposed to the caricature promulgated by right wing authoritarians).

The notion that there is a West vs. East, Christian vs. Islam, Freedom-Lovers vs. Freedom-Haters is a convenient but false dichotomy promoted by authoritarian extremists.

The fellow you quote all hot and bothered about you not believing in God doesn't really care whether you believe in God or not. He's upset that you're not following his rules.

In the end, actions are key. Pat Robertson may SAY he believes in God, for example, and may preach certain aspects of a Christian value system. But his behavior, his public actions, suggest that God is all but irrelevant to his beliefs. How, for example, does a man professing to be a Christian invest in African conflict diamonds? I doubt I know what Jesus would do, but I'd be willing to bet and enriching himself by investing in conflict diamonds would probably be low on the list.

No, for Pat and his ilk, it's not about God, it's about power and authority. By controlling wealth, he gets one kind of power. By preaching a belief system and getting followers he gets another kind of power.

You're upsetting things for these people, those who would be authoritarians and those who need to follow authoritarians, by refusing to follow the rules. Go for it! But, of course, not because I say so! ;)

bekbek said...

Wow, thanks Bill!

So... I had dredlocks for a couple of years. Would it be enough for me to get them again, or do I have to go all the way this time and actually state and defend my ideals despite opposition to them?

*sigh* Work, work, work...